Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Immigration: Good Luck With That

After an eight year lapse, immigration reform is finally, seriously on the table, as agroup of eaight -- oops, in DC speak a Gang Of Eight, rolled out a plan Monday. The framework is the same basic, centrist framework we've been hearing for the past decade. Back of the line path to citizenship ("amnesty" to some), border security, take care of the DREAM kids brought here as children, etc. etc. There's something for everyone to love and hate.

My pet peeve is the "learn English" requirement. It feels like a bone thrown to the xenophobes. And those are the folks who will never support this bill. For them the issue isn't "secure borders." That's just the politically acceptable face. The issue is a multicultural America.

The aging rural base of the GOP is uncomfortable with a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and especially multi-lingual society. They're Know-Nothing nativist and the cry of "enforce the law" needs to be understood in all its implications: they want mass deportation.

During the Republican presidential primaries I read a post-debate poll, then immediately lost the source, which showed a split on immigration roughly 40-30-20-10 as mass deportation-guest worker program-path to citizenship-don't know. That 40 is pretty high and probably gets magnified in the context of a primary for Senate or US House.

Which is the dilemma for all Republicans: position yourself for a general election, put yourself at risk in a primary.

Iowa could be a very interesting test case of this dynamic next year. Steve "herd 'em like cattle" King would be an instant favorite in a Senate primary, and if anyone can get boxed into finally blurting out the ugly truth, that he really wants mass deportation, Steve's the guy.

So I'm still pessimistic about immigration reform's chances. We seem to be in that brief moment of a second term when things can get done. We'll soon return to some of our old divisions. But maybe, just maybe, some of the changes resulting from the 2008 and 2012 elections are permanent cultural shifts.

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